Pot deliveries OK'd into Calif. communities that ban sales, Concord reports uptick in robberies

California endorsed a rule Wednesday that will allow home marijuana deliveries statewide, even into communities that have banned commercial pot sales.

Still, many cities worry about this new cash-fueled economy: In Concord, Calif., police say they have seen an average of three to four robberies of cannabis delivery drivers each month starting since late last year.

"It certainly raises public safety issues for the community," said Lt. Mike Kindorf. "These robberies are occurring in residential neighborhoods or shopping areas with lots of people around."

A recent robbery occurred in the Sunvalley Shopping Center parking lot. Instead of a customer showing up, the delivery driver was robbed at gunpoint by a thief who made off with $700 in cash and a duffel bag full of pot, Kindorf said.

"Companies out there that operate on a cash-only basis has increased the attractiveness of these delivery vehicles for armed robberies," he said. The sale of recreational cannabis is legal in California but not federally, and therefore, the state Legislature killed a bill that would have paved the way for banks to handle finances for marijuana-based businesses.

The regulation by the state Bureau of Cannabis Control to allow marijuana home deliveries was opposed by police chiefs and other critics who predict it will create an unruly market of largely hidden pot transactions, while undercutting control by cities and counties.

Cannabis companies and consumers had pushed for the change, since vast stretches of the state have banned commercial pot activity or not set up rules to allow legal sales. That means residents in those areas were effectively cut off from legal marijuana purchases, even though sales are permitted for adults in California.

"The public spoke loud and clear in favor of statewide delivery," cannabis bureau spokesman Alex Traverso said in a statement.

The rule cleared by state lawyers sought to clarify what had been apparently conflicting law and regulations about where marijuana can be delivered in California, which kicked off broad legal sales last year.

Proposition 64, the law approved by voters in 2016 that opened the way for legal pot sales for adults, said that local governments had the authority to ban nonmedical pot businesses. But state regulators pointed to the business and professions code, which said local governments "shall not prevent delivery of cannabis or cannabis products on public roads" by a licensed operator.

The cannabis bureau had said it was merely clarifying what had always been the case: A licensed pot delivery can be made to "any jurisdiction within the state."

The League of California Cities had opposed the rule, arguing that it would gut local control, overriding local regulations or bans.

It's likely the dispute will end up in court, or play out again in the Legislature.

Josh Drayton, of the California Cannabis Industry Association, said a patchwork of local rules in the state - some communities have embraced legal sales, while others have banned them - had created pot "deserts" where consumers were faced with long drives to find legal marijuana, edibles and other products.

The problem could be worse for the sick and frail who might not be able to leave their homes.

"At this point, you cannot stop regulated delivery services from entering a banned area to deliver to a consumer legally," he said.

Nasser Azimi is the co-founder of the Ohana Cannabis Compnay in Emeryville. He said he follows all the rules and then adds some. He has tight security and has all his drivers use dashcam video to document what's going on around them. He says his drivers make up to 250 deliveries a day and none has been robbed.

"If an operation has its checks and balances," he said, "it is not necessarily a high-risk operation." 

Associated Press reporter Michael Blood contributed to this report.